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No prizes for first place? Hogwash.

I was reading this article about schools going ‘reward free’ in the name of tackling a ‘lack of resilience’ in the up and coming generations.

As a teacher, parent, current over-achiever, and former under-achiever, I must respectfully disagree.

Let me tell you my story. When I was at my first primary school – a Catholic affair – I was labelled ‘the naughty kid’ from the very start. In grade 1, I started having horrific religious dreams about Jesus crucifying me, nailing me to the carpet, or calling me an evil child. My grade 1 teacher used to smack me and put me in the back room to get rid of me. By grade 3, my teacher made me complete my school work in the office and I had to stay back after school.

This was not violent behaviour on my part, mind you. Just impulsive silliness. Flushing apple cores down toilets, staying out in the rain, occasional backchat. Still, my education did not start off on the right foot. What I really needed was a firm teacher who could build a relationship and get inside my head.

Once I changed schools, I experienced that. When I did the wrong thing, I was reprimanded; but when I did the right thing, I was praised. My teacher believed in me and I improved out of sight.

A few years later, I still had behavioural problems but I had started to develop a talent for academia and sports. I played soccer and touch football skilfully, and competed in athletics and distance running, often making it to district and regional trials. I also achieved in the top percentiles for English and writing competitions.

Fancy that – a naughty child who is also academically skilled!?

Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t – but it didn’t really matter because at the end of the day, I was only racing against myself.

When I did win, I would get the chance to receive a medal or ribbon on assembly. For me, the naughty kid, it helped my teachers and peers to see another, more positive side of me.

In some schools I’ve taught in, there have been rewards days for behaviour, attendance, and effort. These are areas that anyone can achieve highly in.

I have absolutely no issue with seeing children rewarded for hard work.

For some of the children we teach, this may be one of the few things they can feel good about.

No-one is suggesting we should give out medals for last place – but a little bit of encouragement goes a long way in motivating some children. There are certainly some children who may only get their time to shine on the sporting field or in the world of academics, so it makes no sense to take that away from them.

When did we become such a nation of scrooges?

As a child, I received ribbons for places and medals when I won. As an adult, I still race against myself, I set the bar high, and I still have the box full of trophies and medals I received in some of my brightest days. I certainly don’t lack resilience.

Let the children celebrate their wins and support them through their disappointments.

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I just want my finishing medal and my beer, damnit!

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I’m going back to work.

Before Master S came along, I stuck it out in an environment that diminished all of the self-confidence I had built up over the years of coming out and living as a gay woman.

“Happiness doesn’t pay the bills,” was my mantra as I worked to burnout, from the discomfort of the closet I’d worked so hard to come out of years earlier.

I saved almost every cent, desperate for the privilege afforded to few in this modern world, the opportunity to be a full-time stay-at-home Mum.

I eventually moved on, with the view to achieving a better work-life balance as I approached parenthood. It turned out to be an excellent choice, and I started to really enjoy my career.

After S was born, I was so excited to do Baby Rhyme Time, playgroup, and trips to the park.

It wasn’t until about five months in that I started to feel an intense boredom, restlessness, and loneliness that I couldn’t seem to fix.

Playgroups I tried in my local area seemed to be populated by nannies and hired help, or Mums who wanted to complain about their husbands in a communal echo-chamber.

Holy shit, it was depressing. And after awhile, something had to give.

So I went back to work.

Just two days a week, and only on a casual basis. The first day I dropped him off, I couldn’t believe how free I felt. I also noticed how much more effective I was in the classroom with organising instructional time and managing difficult behaviour.

When you’ve left your baby in daycare to work, you really do mean business when you get into your flow state.

When I picked him up after a day in the classroom, I had missed him, but I could see how much he was getting out of the extra socialisation and time out of the house. I was actually benefiting from the insignificant things I had taken for granted, like lunchtime banter with other adults.

I felt like a human again.

I refuse to buy into the outdated notion that a child needs their Mum home 100% of the time in order to grow up healthy and well-adjusted. It suits some people and benefits some families, but it’s not for everyone.

To the contrary, I think a little bit of space in the early years can deliver amazing benefits for a developing child, if it means the Mum is happier.

Not every mother is cut out for the full-time, stay-at-home Mum life, and that’s okay. 

It’s high time we stopped assuming that what suits one family or individual is automatically going to suit another. It takes all sorts to make up this weird and wonderful world we live in.

 

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LGBTIQ+ Inclusion – The Power of Conversation

Conversation is both powerful and simple. It allows us to share ideas. In the workplace, almost everything rests upon it – not just talking about work, but sharing workplace banter and building personable relationships.

I feel like part of living and thriving in this modern world is about how to have better conversations. 

I’ve worked in a lot of places – schools, universities, community organisations – and one of the easiest ways for me to determine my longevity in a workplace is for me to listen to the staffroom conversations.

“Well you’re there to work anyway, why does it matter? Just don’t talk about your personal life while you’re there.”

Whether people agree or not, people do bring their personal lives into work. I have lost count of the amount of wedding video snippets I’ve had to sit through at work meetings, or the conversations I’ve been privy to about people’s married lives.

Many of us don’t want to air that, but it would be nice to be able to say ‘my wife’ without fearing discrimination, or risking professional limitations. You can choose to share less, but it is hard to sit in the staffroom and be completely private when everyone is having rich, fun conversations about what they know and who they know.

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“But what about the anti-discrimination act? You can’t do that nowadays!” That is the usual response I hear when I express that we have far to go. 

While there may be protective laws, imagine how limited they are in short-term contracts. Your job is not secure and someone above you will decide if your employment becomes permanent. If they have a bias towards the LGBTIQ+ community and they know you identify, they can simply say you are no longer required.

This fear can lead some people to lower their participation in aspects of workplace life in case it accidentally leads to coming out. So – less banter, conversation, or after work drinks. It can be hard, especially because people like to get to know new employees.

This really limits the benefits of organic, collaborative relationship building.

Always having to watch what you say can also lead many people to experience stress and anxiety. The cumulative impact of this can lead to lower performance and a higher likelihood of moving on. This can be bad for business. High turnover is expensive and it looks bad.

The way some large organisations are addressing this is through LGBTIQ+ inclusion and diversity training. The idea behind this is to help workplace teams become more informed about gender and sexual diversity. This often includes describing lived experiences, terminology, and how to have more appropriate conversations with others. Most importantly, how to be an ally at work.

You’d be surprised at how much more comfortable it can feel when you see a rainbow lanyard or sticker sitting on somebody’s desk – you know that if you were to mention a same-sex partner or provide your preferred pronouns, you’d be safe.

Through doing this, the idea is to foster inclusive workplace cultures, where awkward conversations and assumptions will become less common. Sometime, it’s not the outright homophobia that people struggle with, but the low-level awkward conversations.

LGBTIQ+ inclusion programs address some of this by showing workplace teams how to use appropriate, inclusive language. It is useful when this rests upon a good working understanding of lived experiences in the community and a rich discussion on the various identities – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer – and how people may relate to them.

We can all benefit from learning more – even if we’re all over this inclusion thing. 

Trying to do less of ‘that’s so gay’, assuming someone has an opposite sex partner, or using an inappropriate pronoun once a preferred one has been expressed, can help everyone find their place.

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Have yourself a critically-thinking Christmas – or, why I bat for Team Santa

As an adult, my excitement towards Christmas has been limited to one of two activities:

1. Teaching my students how to make crafts for loved ones

and

2. Pressing all of the toys at Kmart and then walking away, creating an annoying canon of Christmas carols

I also work with my loved ones (my parents and my wife) to throw together some donation baskets for various animal rescues and family charities. Other than that, I tend to leave the country, so I miss a lot of the Christmas hype. Being grown-ass adults, we also don’t bother with gifts.

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As a child, I had a few short, sweet years where I believed there was a Santa Claus. I eventually had doubts – after all, why would an altruistic flying dude with a sack fail to address world hunger if he could deliver a bunch of stuff to kids every year?

I also questioned the plausibility of the physics, but it was good fun while it lasted. One of my best memories was when my brother and I received a game to share – Key to the Kingdom. Best 1990s board game, ever. Also, when we received a Yo-Ho Diablo, also to share. I can never remember having as much fun with a toy as when we took that bad boy into primary school and showed off all our tricks.

Santa must have known how much we wanted those particular toys…. right?

Now that we are about to give birth, I am noticing that there are two distinct teams – Team Santa and Team Critical ThinkingThe former love to take their children through the Santa stories, leaving carrots out for the reindeer. They’ll claim that at least one of the presents beneath the tree has been delivered by Santa. The latter consider themselves to be critical thinkers and shun the idea of propagating any ‘lies’ with their children because they want to foster intellect in their progeny.

Excuse me while I vomit. 

While these types wish to endow their child with thinking prowess, they fail to acknowledge one vital caveat; there has been limited research to support their assertion. That is to say, their rejection of Santa Claus on the basis of it disrupting critical thought development is mostly anecdotal conjecture. To which I give a resounding…. citation required. 

You would think that the first place a critical thinking parent would go to form their views would be research, but peer-reviewed articles to support the Anti-Santa viewpoint largely do not exist – like Santa himself.

What does exist is a significant body of research on development that points to the unequivocal benefits of pretend play and imagination. Children who engage in this form of play by themselves and with others develop a greater capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity.

Busting the Santa Myth using burgeoning critical reasoning skills actually paves the way for cognitive development that will later be beneficial for persuasion, problem-solving, and innovative activities (like robotics!)

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It is generally a short-lived myth, but while children believe, it can provide magic and positivity – from the sharing of stories, the anticipation of writing letters to Santa, and the excitement of receiving a gift. I personally draw the line at using Santa to control behaviour – be good or you won’t get anything from Santa! After all, managing behaviour is the job of parents – but there are no clauses in the handbook that say you need to use Santa in that way, and it probably won’t do any lasting harm.

Once the child begins to work through the myth themselves, that is when the real magic begins, because you can then appoint them as Santa’s Helper – a child who has figured it all out themselves, but who has a special role in protecting it for younger siblings and friends. Children who have lived Santa’s magic might relate to keeping it alive for others, but children who have always heard the Santa myth shunned will likely struggle to develop this empathy.

I have met many families who squash the Santa myth before their child is ever able to believe. Far from developing critical thought, what tends to happen is an uncomfortable sense of intellectual and moral superiority from the mouths of babes.

“Only BABIES believe in Santa Claus. You must be STUPID.” 

You can imagine how pleasant these children are.

I received the short-lived joy of Santa as a child. I am critically rigorous of any viewpoint as an adult, to the point where it annoys the people who love me because I won’t accept any poppycock at face value. That is to say – yep, I’m not fun at parties!

Yes, that is an anecdote with a sample size of 1, but I think you’ll find the rigour of figuring Santa out is more beneficial for a child than begrudging them the experience in the name of ‘critical thinking.’

Ooh-la-la.

Let them eat cake – and leave some out for the big guy, too. 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever you relate to! May this season be a time of safety and love for you and yours.

shallow focus photo of Merry Xmas LED signage

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You can’t be what you can’t see – why teachers shouldn’t live in the closet

When we first start to learn important life skills, our success hinges on watching someone else model the task before we try. Leading our own lives isn’t any different from mastering basic life skills; we all have the desire to form human connections that influence us and form our ways of being in the world. We know that young people look up to the world around them and so we try to steer them towards good role models to fight against the negative messages they will undoubtedly consume from the wider world.

Although there are positive role models everywhere, it is more meaningful when a child sees a person just like them in a position of success, in a place where they can connect with them. Young people adopt habits and attitudes by looking at people who share their gender, cultural background, or other life circumstances. When a child belongs to a group that is in the minority, knowing individuals who have succeeded in spite of stereotypes offers hope that their future can be bright. The most common place for a child to connect with a role model is at school.

This is why I find it so perplexing that being a gay teacher in Australia is still such a silent idea. To be fair, nobody is going to stop a gay person from attaining a Bachelor of Education, but it can be hard once you’re in the system.

One of the most significant “no” arguments that got a lot of airplay during the lead up to the plebiscite was that gay marriage would pave the way for talking about it in schools. My question is, why aren’t we talking about it? In any classroom, there will be students with this in their lives  – whether it is through having a gay relative, gay parents, or even being gay themselves. At some point throughout their life, they will likely meet a gay person or work with one. For some students, they may not yet realise that they are gay, but are grappling internally with feelings that they can’t explain. They might be looking for confirmation that they are completely normal and loved regardless.

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Thinking about this takes me back to 2004. My family had relocated to a regional city in Queensland, and the intent was to lead a quieter life while my father developed his business. I had always known I had those feelings and had never said anything because I wasn’t certain that I actually was gay, because I lacked life experience. In my family and friendship groups, nobody spoke about it. Popular culture at the time didn’t contain many visible role models, or at least none that I had been exposed to. YouTube and social media were in their infancy and so I was somewhat in the dark. Furthermore, the Christian education program at my school had explicitly stated that being gay was not an option if you were to lead an acceptable, moral life.

Towards the end of that year, I developed a close friendship with a girl that turned into a somewhat-relationship behind closed doors. We never spoke to anyone about it because  we knew there would be consequences.

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During year 12, my senior music teacher resigned and was replaced by a bright and talented teacher who played numerous instruments and rocked a shaved head like nobody’s business. She unabashedly wore jackets with gay patches stitched onto them, and considering where the world (particularly Bundaberg) was at in 2007, this was a bold move. Not only did she impart her amazing musical taste on all of us, but she spoke about the life she had built, complete with a career, mortgage, world travels, a dog, and a (nearly) wife. Suddenly, here was this person who was living proof that I could have the aspirational life I dreamed of with a wife by my side. It changed everything.

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Not long after I met this teacher, I came out to my parents. I wrote a song about a woman I loved and sang it on school assembly. I stopped caring what other people thought about my life and lived as my true, authentic self.

This is why the idea of silencing gay teachers is anathema to me. We need to help young people find their voice. It is challenging to do that if we must hide our wedding photos from plain sight. What visible role models will provide are two very important messages to our young people;

  1. You are not alone.
  2. Those of you who identify as gay have equal worth and you have just as much chance of fulfilling your dreams as anyone else. Here are people who have walked similar paths to you and succeeded. It is possible for you. 

I think every child’s diversity should be represented visibly in the schooling system, through teachers, coaches, parents, students and curriculum materials that acknowledge a variety of life narratives. Only then will we see change and open up a brighter future, not just for some students, but for every student. I think that’s worth standing up for, don’t you?